Prateek Dayal

Breaking the silence one random blog post at a time

The Illusion of Predictability

As humans, we like to be in control of our future and our destiny. As entrepreneurs we want and many a times we are expected to be able to predict the future. When people ask us about our future plans, they are rarely satisfied with execution plans. More often than not, they want to know how big we think our team will be or how much bigger the business will be in 12 to 18 months. That’s what gets them excited about the company. We see this all around us and we are tempted to believe that we can actually predict the future. When our predictions don’t come true (or the future doesn’t align with the image we had of it in our mind), we think we just need to get better at being able to predict. Or worse, we blame the current for being against us.

The illusion of predictability also comes with other problems. It makes you more judgemental where you don’t need to be. At startup events, I see many entrepreneurs and ecosystem players write off startups in minutes of meeting the teams for the first time. In their mind, based on their experience, they can clearly predict the failure of an attempt. The success of a startup depends on the skills of the founder and the team, the quality of the product and the market conditions. All of these are constantly changing. A smart team can learn from it’s mistakes, a competitor can actually help you create a market and other random things may happen.

Accepting that you can’t predict the future can be intimidating at first but liberating in the end. In fact, you can turn these interactions around and make them a lot more pleasant and productive for everyone. I have been in the startup world for about 7 years now and met dozens of entrepreneurs over this time (across countries). I have been surprised by the outcome of their startups. Some that I expected to succeed failed and some that I saw no hope in did quite well eventually. After a few years of being silly, I had to accept that I suck at predicting. After the acceptance came the liberating feeling that I don’t even need to predict. Being able to meet really young companies is a wonder opportunity. If I look at the companies and founders without judging them, whether things go north or south for them, I have more data points to come up with a hypothesis of what helps companies succeed. For example, in case of Paras, I noticed that he didn’t stop pivoting until an idea stuck (we both did a music startup at some point). In case of Nischal, he never lost sight of the product and product driven growth (I had a chance to hang out with him in Chile). Both have been at it for years and both are bootstrapped.

I now believe that instead of trying to get better at predicting, I should learn to get better at identifying the seeds. In fact even the value of an ecosystem should be in helping good seeds grow into big trees. If you can only spot greatness once it has manifested itself fully, you are probably in the wrong profession.

On a related note, here is a great video from Dr Saras Sarasvathi on entrepreneurship that talks about prediction and control.